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IDF chief in Washington warns against return to Iran nuke deal

In first visit since Biden took office, Aviv Kohavi tells top Pentagon officials that existing pact allows Tehran to make ‘significant advances’ in nuclear program

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center-right, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, center-left, salute outside the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center-right, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, center-left, salute outside the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.

Talks with UN to bolster ceasefire go nowhere, Hamas complains

A meeting between the Hamas terror group and United Nations envoy Tor Wennesland to strengthen the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel went poorly, Hamas Gaza governor Yahya Sinwar says.

The UN envoy recently arrived in the Gaza Strip in an attempt to stabilize the fragile ceasefire between the two sides.

“It was a bad meeting. It was not positive at all, and we clarified to the [United Nations] delegation that we would hold a meeting of Islamic and national factions in Gaza to decide our next steps,” Sinwar tells reporters following the meeting.

Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar sits in his bombed Gaza office, May 27, 2021 (Courtesy)

Hamas has demanded that Israel lift tightened restrictions on the Gaza Strip in exchange for continued calm, as well as permit Gaza to rebuild after the 11-day escalation between Israel and the terror group.

Israel has maintained tighter than usual restrictions on the coastal enclave since the end of the operation. Defense Minister Benny Gantz has said a full lifting of restrictions will not take place unless the two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers are not returned to Israel.

Sinwar says Israel is “trying to rob us, the Palestinian people, the Palestinian resistance, when it comes to lifting [the restrictions] on our people.”

Iran president says missile program, proxy support not up for negotiation

Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi says he’s not willing to negotiate over Tehran’s ballistic missile program, nor its support of regional militias, and is wary of talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

“Any negotiations that guarantee national interests will certainly be supported, but… we will not allow negotiations to be for negotiation’s sake,” he says in his first press conference, adding that his election on Friday followed a “massive” voter turnout.

He also says he’s not willing to meet US President Joe Biden, and calls himself “a defender of human rights” after being asked directly about his involvement in the 1988 mass executions of some 5,000 people.

Raisi was part of a so-called “death panel” that sentenced political prisoners to death at the end of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

Netanyahu to give ‘important announcement’ at 3

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to give an “important diplomatic announcement” at 3 p.m., his party says.

The announcement will come when the Likud party was set to convene for its weekly faction summit, which most Knesset parties hold on Monday afternoon, and which usually include a statement from the party leader at the top.

Netanyahu’s press corps has been criticized in the past for overselling the supposed significance of his “dramatic statements” in order to drum up press coverage.

Gantz halts planned closure of army COVID task force as cases rise

Defense Minister Benny Gantz tells the military it may have to delay the planned closure of its coronavirus task force in light of growing concerns in Israel of a renewed COVID-19 outbreak due to the so-called Delta variant of the virus, which is considered more contagious than other types of the disease.

New daily positive cases have more doubled since June 16, from 15 a day to 31, according to a seven-day moving average, though health experts maintain that the situation is under control. The number of cases remains well below the hundreds or even thousands of daily cases the country saw during much of the pandemic.

“In light of the data, Gantz ordered [the military] to prepare to postpone the closure of the Ella Unit, which is responsible for epidemiological investigations and coordinates the investigations in cities that have outbreaks,” Gantz’s office says.

The Israel Defense Forces’ coronavirus task force, dubbed the Ella Unit, was meant to hand over responsibility for epidemiological investigations to a civilian body beginning next month.

IDF soldiers interview people infected with coronavirus to identify who they have been in contact with, at the headquarters of the Home Front Command, in Ramle, August 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The defense minister also instructs the military to hold off on halting any other pandemic-related operations and to prepare for the possibility that it may have to again perform coronavirus tests.

Tokyo to allow up to 10,000 fans at Olympic events

The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday.

Organizers set a limit of 50% of capacity up to a maximum of 10,000 fans for all Olympic venues.

The decision was announced after so-called Five Party talks online with local organizers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, the Japanese government and the government of metropolitan Tokyo.

A man wearing a face mask cycles past the logo of the Tokyo Olympics, in Tokyo, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

The decision contradicts the country’s top medical adviser, Dr. Shigeru Omi, who recommended last week that the safest way to hold the Olympics would be without fans. He had previously called it “abnormal” to hold the Olympics during the pandemic.

The Tokyo Games are set to open on July 23.

Arab man charged with terror, attempted murder for Acre stoning attack

An Acre man has been indicted on charges of attempted murder and terror for his role in violent rioting in the city last month.

Habib Abu Habib, 41, is accused of throwing a stone at the head of Mordechai Katz from only a few feet away on the night of May 12, knocking him to the ground, where he was kicked and stoned before being rescued by locals and a police official who fired his gun into the air.

Prosecutors say Abu Habib is seen on a video picking up the stone in the street, running at Katz and throwing it at him.

He is also accused of taking part in the stoning of the car of another man in the city later that night.

The rioting came amid intense ethnic violence that rocked Israeli cities for several days during the Operation Guardian of the Walls conflict in Gaza.

Lapid: We inherited a government in total disarray

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says he found governmental ministries in a state of “unbelievable disarray and neglect,” when his coalition took power last week.

“We aren’t starting from zero, but below zero,” he says at the start of a meeting for his Yesh Atid faction, urging the public to be patient in seeing results from the transition of power.

He praises Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for his workmanlike attitude and attempts to bridge divides between varying viewpoints.

“I apologize to you journalists ahead of time, this government will be a lot less interesting than the last one. We didn’t come to argue, but to work,” he says.

He also chides the opposition for trying to stymie a measure most of them actually support, an extension of limits on family unification for Palestinians and Israelis.

“The role of the opposition is to oppose and bring down the government, I get that,” Lapid, the former opposition leader, says. “But there are also shared goals — that the country succeed, prosper, be strong and secure.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give remarks while meeting with other opposition party heads in the coming minutes.

Gantz: We’ll keep working to get vaccines to the Palestinians

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says his government will continue to work to get vaccines to the Palestinians, after a deal to transfer doses to the PA was rejected by Ramallah.

“We are committed to the health of our neighbors, and I’m sure a solution will be found to the satisfaction of both sides,” he says.

He says Israel will work hard to find more avenues for cooperation with the PA, with Egypt’s help.

He also issues a fresh threat against Hamas in Gaza.

“What was, will not be. Without [the return of] our boys and regional stability, Gaza will not be rehabilitated economically,” he says, referring to remains of soldiers and live civilians held captive by the terror group.

At another faction meeting, Health Minister Nitzan Horovitz tells his Meretz faction that despite the fact their coalition is not a “normal” one, it is functioning well so far.

Netanyahu: Lapid endangering Israel by promising to coordinate Iran moves with US

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu accuses Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of endangering Israel by pledging to update the US on any military actions Israel could take against Iran ahead of time.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Lapid and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed on a policy of “no surprises” when they spoke on Thursday, and promised to maintain open and regular communication channels.

“If there were no surprises, we wouldn’t have been able to destroy the reactor in Iraq,” Netanyahu says of the 1981 strike ordered by prime minister Menachem Begin, noting that he had been asked for such a commitment several times by Washington over his 15 years in power and always refused. (In 2007, prime minister Olmert indicated to president Bush that Israel would strike Syria’s nuclear reactor, but did not coordinate the attack with the US.)

Netanyahu says he was asked specifically by President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, “don’t surprise us” on Iran, but refused to make such a commitment, telling them only, “I’ll take your request into account.”

Branding Lapid Israel’s “prime minister in practice,” he said Lapid and Bennett “gave up the right to act without advance notice” against the Iranian regime and its nuclear program.

“I cannot think of a weaker and more flaccid message we could be sending Iran,” he says, adding that the country’s ayatollahs can now “sleep well at night.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses his Likud faction in the Knesset on June 21, 2021 (Screenshot)

He concludes that the new government is “not fit to lead.”

“This is not a political issue; this is an issue of security, of lives being endangered,” he charges.

Addressing claims from Lapid of “disarray” left by his government, Netanyahu quips that Yesh Atid inherited ministries from Blue and White, which is part of the government.

Jordanians plead not guilty in royal coup attempt trial

A former top adviser to King Abdullah II and a relative of the monarch has pleaded not guilty to sedition and incitement charges, a defense lawyer said.

The highly anticipated trial is being held under tight security and was closed to the media.

The charges revolve around an unprecedented public rift in the traditionally discreet royal family. The defendants are accused of conspiring with a senior royal — Prince Hamzah, a half-brother of the king — to foment unrest against the monarch while soliciting foreign help.

Hamzah is not facing charges, with the king having said the royal family is handling the matter privately. Yet he is the central figure in the case, and defense attorneys said they plan to call him to the stand.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II (left) laughs with his brother, then-crown prince Hamzah (right), on April 2, 2001, shortly before the Jordanian monarch embarked on a tour of the United States. (AP Photo/ Yousef Allan/File)

The indictment, read in court Monday, alleges Hamzah was driven by personal ambition and determined to become king. It says the prince and the two defendants — Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a royal, and Bassem Awadallah, a former royal adviser — conspired to stir discontent.

They are the most senior establishment figures to appear before the security court, which typically goes after drug offenders or suspected militants.

Defense lawyer Mohammad Afeef, who represents Awadallah, tells journalists waiting outside the security court for hours Monday that the court heard two prosecution witnesses, and that another session would be held Tuesday.

Lapid rebuffs Netanyahu’s claims of promise to inform US of Iran actions

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is denying that he committed to inform the US of any action Israel will take against Iran ahead of time, after opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that he had made such an agreement, thereby endangering Israel.

“The first part of the sentence is not true and the second part will not happen,” Lapid says in a statement, disputing both Netanyahu’s claim about an agreement with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and the Likud head’s vow that he’ll replace the current government.

“I thank the opposition leader for his suggestions. We’ll take it from here,” Lapid says.

Surprise! ‘No surprise’ policy seemingly sought by Netanyahu in past

Some are noting that Yair Lapid and Antony Blinken agreeing to a policy of “no surprises” with regards to Iran is, well, no surprise, as its been a mainstay of Israel-US policy for years, including during Benjamin Netanyahu’s own time in office.

During the previous government, senior Israeli officials agreed in talks with the US on the Iran nuclear file that there would be “no surprises” on the matter and that disagreements would be addressed behind closed doors, a source familiar with the matter confirms to The Times of Israel.

In fact, despite Netanyahu claiming that the policy means Israel cannot act against Iran without informing the US first, it has in the past been largely seen as a shield for Israel, making sure Jerusalem is apprised of any overtures the US might make toward the Islamic Republic.

In March, when Netanyahu was still premier, then-foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi said that the Israel and the Joe Biden administration had agreed to a “no surprises” policy.

“We believe, profoundly and passionately, in making sure that we and Israel have a policy of no surprises, that we are communicating with one another on a going forward basis, so that we have a better understanding … on what the other side intends to do with respect to a whole range of security issues in the region,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC News in April, when Netanyahu was still prime minister.

Former ambassador Michael Oren’s “principle of no daylight, no surprises amounts to a virtual Netanyahu veto over anything the U.S. government might contemplate doing to, or about, Israel,” Bernard Avishai wrote in the New Yorker in 2015.

In 2014, Haaretz reported, “A senior Israeli official has said that Israel and the United States have an understanding which calls for a policy of ‘no surprises’ in the framework of current negotiations between Iran and the six powers, being held in an attempt to reach a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. As part of this understanding, the U.S. briefed Israel in advance of its plan to hold direct bilateral talks with Iran in Geneva this week.”

However, in 2011, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote for Bloomberg that Netanyahu had apparently refused to commit to informing the US ahead of time if it plans on attacking Iran, noting, “‘No surprises’ has been the rule governing U.S.-Israel relations for some time, and this is where the personality clash between the two leaders has real salience.”

Gantz affirms Israeli right to self-defense amid Iran row

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says Israel’s freedom of action against Iran or any other enemy is not being harmed due to its commitment to coordinate with the US, responding to a claim from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I affirm that Israel will continue to preserve for itself its right to defend itself against any threat in any place,” he says.

“The former prime minister’s use of intimate conversations with our closest ally for political means is shameful and dangerous,” he charges.

Airport COVID testing mess being dealt with, health minister says

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz says authorities are working with the Transportation Ministry to expand coronavirus testing at Ben Gurion airport, after a Friday influx of passengers overwhelmed staff there and thousands were allowed to leave without being tested.

He says the ministry is demanding more testers be hired and that the airport set aside more room for testing.

“The lines are already shorter, but that’s not enough. We need to shorten them in a better way, and especially to ready for the expected rush at the airport during the summer months,” he says.

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 20, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

He adds that “very high” fines will be levied on anyone who travels to restricted countries.

Horowitz also advises the public to not get too worked up about a rise in new coronavirus cases in recent days.

“There’s no need for unnecessary pressure,” he says.

Army says air-mounted laser downs drones in tests

Israel’s Defense Ministry says a plane-mounted laser that it is developing successfully shot down several drones, in some cases from more than a kilometer away, over the Mediterranean Sea as part of the initial test of the system last week.

According to the head of the ministry’s research and development team, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yaniv Rotem, a fully functional prototype of the plane-mounted, solid-state laser is at least three to four years away, though a ground-based version of the system, capable of shooting down rockets and mortar shells in addition to small drones and larger unmanned aerial vehicles, is expected to not only be operational but to be in use by the Israel Defense Forces by the end of 2024.

“We will perform an operational test by the end of this year. And if it works — not if, when it works — within three years, we would have a laser in the Gaza area,” Rotem tells reporters.

According to the Defense Ministry, the benefit of such a laser, both in the air and on the ground, is that the cost per interception is negligible compared to that of the Iron Dome air defense system’s interceptor missiles, each of which costs tens of thousands of dollars. So long as there is a constant source of energy for the laser, there is also no risk of ever running out of ammunition.

The downside of a laser system is that it does not function well in times of low visibility, when there is heavy cloud cover and other inclement weather. The plane-mounted model of the laser is meant to get around this limitation somewhat by putting the system above the clouds.

“We successfully intercepted several UAVs in the air, within a range of more than one kilometer (0.6 miles). This is a groundbreaking technological achievement and it is critical for further development of our airborne high-power laser system,” Rotem says.

This picture from March 22, 2019, shows balloons carrying a make-shift drone-shaped object flying over the border with Israel east of Gaza City, after it was launched by Palestinians during clashes along the security fence. (Said Khatib/AFP)

“This is the first time in the State of Israel that we have succeeded in doing this. And to the best of my memory, we are one of the few in the world to do so, if anyone else has even done it,” he boasts.

Rotem stresses, however, that while the trial was successful and represents a “significant and critical milestone,” it was only an initial test of the system, with years more of work before the plane-mounted laser would be fully operational.

‘Terror suspect’ arrested on side of highway near Haifa

A man suspected of being involved in unspecified terrorist activities has been arrested on the side of a highway south of Haifa.

The Shin Bet security service confirms that the man, who was stopped by police, has been handed over to their custody for questioning.

It is not immediately clear what the man is suspected of having done or planning to do.

Video footage from the scene shows the man being handcuffed and blindfolded by uniformed and plain-clothes police officers.

Chaotic Knesset tackles first no-confidence motion against government

The Knesset plenum has convened for its daily session and is dealing with its first item, a no-confidence motion introduced by Likud’s Ofir Akunis accusing the government of being built on a foundation of lies and proposing replacing it with a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

“A government founded on lies, fraud and breach of trust has no right to exist,” Akunis says, echoing a Likud talking point accusing Yamina of misleading its voters by joining the coalition.

Minister Zeev Elkin, speaking on behalf of the government, accuses the opposition of hypocrisy, seeking to delegitimize the votes of those who do not support Likud and its allies.

Elkin, loudly heckled by opposition lawmakers, attempts to yell over them, as Speaker Mickey Levy appears to lose control of the room temporarily.

“Don’t speak to us about legitimacy,” Elkin shouts. “If it doesn’t serve you, it’s not legitimate. If you are on the outside, it’s not legitimate.”

The measure is widely expected to fail.

US, Europe slap sanctions on Belarus over forced landing of plane

The United States and Europe on Monday imposed sanctions on dozens of Belarusian officials in a coordinated move to impact strongman Alexander Lukashenko after the forced landing of a commercial plane.

“These coordinated designations demonstrate the steadfast transatlantic commitment to supporting the Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken says in a statement.

EU ministers impose travel bans and asset freezes on 78 Belarus officials and froze the assets of 8 “entities,” which are usually companies, banks, or associations. It means that a total of 166 people and 15 entities are now under EU restrictive measures.

“This decision was made in view of the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists,” a statement said.

Seven people and one entity are hit specifically over the “forced and unlawful” landing of the Ryanair plane, which was traveling from Greece to Lithuania when it was ordered to stop in Minsk, where authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was one of the passengers.

Ministers will also prepare a raft of economic sanctions for EU leaders to endorse at a summit on Thursday.

The measures are likely to include action against the export of potash – a common fertilizer ingredient – tobacco industry exports and petroleum products, among others.

Government survives no-confidence motions

After a stormy session, the Knesset has voted down two separate no-confidence measures against the government, despite a promise from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu that he will bring down the government “much faster than you expect.”

Unvaccinated travelers will need quarantine tracking devices — report

The government will reimpose rules forcing unvaccinated people entering Israel to wear tracking devices, as authorities seek to up enforcement of quarantine requirements, the Walla news site reports.

According to the report, the Health Ministry is already in touch with possible suppliers of trackers, assured that it will have support to pass regulations governing their use, now that ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, parties are out of the ruling coalition.

The trackers will be disposable, Walla says. However, they will not be appropriate for children under age 14, despite the fact that adolescents make up the lion’s share of unvaccinated people in Israel.

Channel 12 news reports that fines for those who travel to restricted countries will be in the thousands of shekels.

Delta variant blamed as schools reportedly see COVID cases triple

The number of coronavirus patients within the education system has tripled over the past week, Kan reports.

There are 164 students who have tested positive for COVID-19, and 16 staff, the station says.

Health authorities in Israel believe some 70 percent of the new COVID-19 cases are the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is more widespread than previously thought, Channel 12 news reports.

“There’s been a serious uptick in cases of the Indian variant in Israel,” a senior health official is quoted saying, using an outdated term for the mutation.

Experts say the vast majority of the new cases are being found in those aged 12-15, leading to an uptick in parents having their children vaccinated.

An Israeli child receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit Covid-19 vaccination center in Petah Tikva, on June 6, 2021. (Flash90)

Education Minister Yifat Shasha Biton says that “we are closely following the figures. The ministry is providing acute services to places where outbreaks are being identified, including daycares and summer schools, and in preparation for the next school year.”

Figures published earlier today showed 48 new cases on Sunday and 57 new cases between midnight and 9 a.m. on Monday, a significant spike after the country managed to nearly eradicate the disease over the last two months.

Authorities have concentrated on those coming into Israel as a major factor, though official figures show that only 21 of 129 cases found since June 18 came from travelers.

“Once we lifted restrictions, it was clear that local outbreaks were just a matter of time,” Prof. Ron Balicer, who advises the government on coronavirus policy, tells Kan. “If we see spread from community to community in the next few days, we may need to look at more measures to halt the spread.”

UTJ lawmaker slams ‘worthless’ Bennett for bringing back virus

Moshe Gafni of the opposition UTJ party launches an attack on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett from the Knesset plenum rostrum, calling him a “worthless piece of crap” and accusing him of being responsible for the recent uptick in coronavirus cases.

“He comes to be prime minister, not five days go by, and the coronavirus is back,” Gafni complains to the mostly empty hall, egged on by Likud MK David Amsalem, who also throws insults at Bennett from his seat.

“You remember, he stood here, telling us what to do,” Gafni caterwauls. “What are we supposed to do, you worthless piece of crap. What did you do in this week?… Shame.”

“Heaven forbid, I was in the coalition with him, I would bury my face in the ground,” concludes Gafni.

Nearly 90 new coronavirus cases recorded so far Monday

The Health Ministry announces that there have been 88 new cases of the coronavirus so far on Monday as of 5 p.m., the highest daily number seen in months.

The figure is nearly double the 48 cases recorded Sunday.

The last time over 80 cases were recorded in a single day was April 29, when 94 cases were found, according to Health Ministry data. The final daily figure is likely to be even higher, though, with several hours yet to go in the day.

The city of Binyamina has seen the largest outbreak, with 43 confirmed cases there, making it the first city to be marked a color other than green on the state’s color-coded restriction system. There are 38 cases in Jerusalem, 36 in Modi’in and 16 cases in Tel Aviv, with all other locales nationwide having 15 cases or less.

There are a total of 387 cases nationwide, and 51 people hospitalized, including 24 in serious condition.

Ran Sa’ar, the head of the Maccabi health fund, tells Army Radio that he is seeing a large uptick in people getting vaccinated, and authorities are planning for those numbers to go up.

He also says people should not be too worried about the renewed outbreak, which he attributed to the Delta variant, so long as the government takes care of enforcing quarantine and making sure people get tested.

Health Ministry to call for children to be vaccinated — reports

Health Ministry director Chezy Levy and the heads of Israel’s health funds will urge parents to get children between the ages of 12 and 15 vaccinated as quickly as possible, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Vaccinations for 12- to 15-year-olds in Israel began two weeks ago, but the Health Ministry did not issue a direct recommendation for teens to get vaccinated.

Only 24.9 percent of Israelis between the ages of 10 and 19 have received a single dose; the shot is not available to those under 12.

Health Ministry urges kids 12-15 get coronavirus shots

The Health Ministry is officially urging adolescents aged 12 to 15 to be vaccinated, responding to an uptick in virus cases in recent days.

The ministry says a decision to recommend the expansion of the vaccination program was made after consultations with health funds, pediatric experts, and coronavirus czar Nachman Shai.

“Given the expected uptick in travels abroad, and the lifting of mask rules and Green Pass regulations, and to take every possible step to keep normal daily life as we have managed to in Israel, it is very much recommended to be vaccinated and to be protected from the variants we know about,” the ministry says in a statement.

The statement notes that 2.5 million children in the US have been vaccinated “without any special side effects,” and says it has enough evidentiary material to make the recommendation.

Despite experts claims that the rise in cases in Israel is being driven by the Delta variant, the ministry statement does not single it out, but says there are several variants at play.

It also does not issue any special instructions for youths who already had the virus, presumably meaning it recommends that they too be vaccinated.

Health chief: Same vaccines rejected by Palestinians being given to our kids ‘right now’

Health Ministry chief Chezy Levy says that Israel is using the same vaccines rejected by the Palestinian Authority to inoculate its own population against the coronavirus “right now.”

The PA on Friday agreed but then later rejected a deal for Israel to deliver 1 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, saying that the first 100,000 delivered were too close to expiring. Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai Alkaila said they “did not meet standards and so we decided to return them.” The PA on Sunday said it would seek to renegotiate the deal.

“We didn’t deliver a single vaccine [to the Palestinians] that had expired. We delivered the exact same vaccines that we are using right now for our people and our children,” Levy tells Channel 12 news, explaining that the initial shipment to Palestinians was of vaccines that expire at the end of June and later shipments would have later expiration dates.

A Times of Israel correspondent reports that her children were vaccinated with doses on Monday due to expire at the end of June.

A bottle of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine doses, which expires June 2021, seen after shots from the bottle were administered to Israeli minors on June 21, 2021. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

Levy declines to try and explain why the Palestinians rejected the shots — “I’ll leave it for them to explain” — but says Israel will continue to try to help give them vaccines.

“The vaccines came out of the storehouses, under the most stringent controls, with the correct temperature. Everything we gave them was valid,” he says.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said earlier in the day that Israel would continue to try and provide the Palestinians with vaccines.

Levy also urges adolescents to get vaccinated, as part of a new government push with cases rising among youths. He says between 20,000 and 21,000 minors between 12 and 15 have been vaccinated since the country lowered the minimum age to 12 two weeks ago.

Diplomats said to accuse ‘troll’ Netanyahu of damaging US alliance for own gain

Senior diplomatic officials quoted by Channel 12 news are accusing former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “sacrificing” ties with the US for his political interests.

“He knows the significance of our strategic alliance with the US and is aware of the damage he is causing,” one source tells the channel. “It’s sad.”

A second source accuses the Likud leader of attempting to drive a wedge between the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government and US President Joe Biden’s administration.

“He’s trolling and even the White House knows he’s trolling,” the source says.

Neither source is named.

Netanyahu earlier in the day accused Lapid of damaging Israeli security by agreeing to a policy of “no surprises” with the US, which he said would shackle Israel’s ability to act independently against Iran.

One source tells the channel that the US knows Israel reserves the right to act on its own.

US, France shrug off election of Iran hardliner Raisi

The White House is not getting worked up over the election of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s next president, saying that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is still calling the shots on nuclear negotiations.

“The president’s view and our view is that the decision-maker here is the supreme leader,” spokesperson Jen Psaki says. “That was the case before the election, is the case today, probably will be the case moving forward.”

Raisi said Monday that he was not interested in meeting Biden, a sentiment Psaki indicated was likely mutual, given that the US does not have ties with Iran.

“We don’t have any plans to meet at the leader level so it’s unclear that anything has changed on that front,” she says.

A supporter of Iranian ultraconservative presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi carries a poster bearing a picture of him with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a rally in the capital Tehran, on June 16, 2021. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

She adds that the White House is “looking forward” to seeing where Iran nuclear talks are going after the last round of talks.

Paris also avoids getting excited over the Iranian election, saying it has “taken note” of Raisi’s victory and that it remains “fully mobilized” to implement the 2015 nuclear deal.

“We reaffirm the concerns we have regularly expressed regarding the human rights situation in Iran,” it adds in a statement.

In his remarks Monday, Raisi emphasized the deal’s importance, describing sanctions relief as “central to our foreign policy” and exhorting the US to “return and implement your commitments.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

Top government economist Simhon stepping down

Prof. Avi Simhon, the head of the National Economic Council, is resigning from the post, after more than five years.

Simhon, a macroeconomist who formerly ran for Knesset with Likud, informed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of his decision on Monday, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says.

“Prime Minister Bennett thanked Prof. Simhon and wished him much success in the future,” the statement reads.

Avi Simhon, chairman of the National Economic Council, attends a conference of the Israeli newspaper, ‘Makor Rishon” in Jerusalem, December 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He is expected to leave the post in the coming weeks. No replacement is named.

Bennett meets with Ra’am’s Abbas to hash out family unification law deal

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is meeting with Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas in a bid to come to an agreement on a bill to extend an order clamping down on Palestinians gaining Israeli citizenship or residency through marriage, Walla news reports.

Also at the meeting are Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina), Housing minister Zeev Elkin (New Hope), and coalition whips Idit Silman (Yamina) and Boaz Toporosky (Yesh Atid).

Abbas has balked at supporting the measure, meaning the coalition will fall short of needed support for the measure without opposition backing. However, the opposition has refused to back the measure, despite supporting it ideologically, in order to embarrass the new government.

The measure, which has been in place since 2003 and must be renewed every year, will expire in a week and a half.

Coalition lawmakers may offer to water down the language of the bill to gain Abbas’s support, according to reports.

Visiting US, Kohavi raises objections to nuclear deal

Military chief Aviv Kohavi warns American officials against their government’s plan to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal this week during a visit to Washington, DC, as part of a last-ditch effort by Israel to affect the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iran in Vienna.

The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff arrived in Israel on Sunday and has spent the past two days in meetings with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the military says.

“The chief of staff presented the failures of the current nuclear deal, which allow Iran to make significant advances in the coming years in the quantity and quality of centrifuges and in the amount and quality of enriched uranium, and he stressed the lack of oversight in the area of developing a nuclear weapon,” the IDF says in a statement.

Kohavi’s visit to the US, which was delayed due to last month’s Gaza conflict, comes as indirect talks between Washington and Tehran pick up steam, following the election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s next president last week.

“The chief of staff restated the risk inherent in returning to the original nuclear agreement and stressed that everything must be done to prevent Iran from obtaining military nuclear capabilities,” the IDF says.

Rivlin’s office in talks to hold meeting with Congressional leadership while in DC

Congressional leadership is in talks with President Reuven Rivlin’s office to set up a meeting between the sides while the president is in Washington next week, a source familiar with the matter tells The Times of Israel.

In March, Rivlin’s office said that it was in talks with leadership on Capitol Hill for the president to give an address to a joint session of Congress.

Rivlin is slated to fly to the US on Saturday night, landing in New York on Sunday afternoon, where he will hold meetings at the United Nations and with American Jewish leaders. On Monday morning, he will take off to Washington where he will meet with US President Joe Biden at the White House for bilateral talks on strengthening US-Israel ties.

Rivlin is scheduled to return to New York that same day. The source who spoke to The Times of Israel did not mention a joint session address, hinting that it may no longer be in the cards.

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